TEF: results ‘could undermine’ London as global student hub

But many sector figures say that poor performance of capital’s universities is more likely to ‘undermine credibility’ of exercise

June 22, 2017
LSE
Source: iStock

London’s poor performance in the UK’s teaching excellence framework (TEF) “could damage” the capital’s attractiveness as an international study destination but may also “undermine the credibility” of the assessment, according to sector figures.

Less than a quarter of higher education institutions in London (23 per cent) were awarded the highest gold rating in the country’s first institutional assessment of teaching quality, while over a third (34 per cent) received bronze.

Almost half (12 out of 25) of the UK’s bronze universities are based in the capital. These include several prestigious institutions including the London School of Economics, Soas, University of London and St George’s, University of London.

A survey of 27,955 prospective international students, conducted by student recruitment company Hobsons earlier this year, found that a gold rating in the TEF was perceived as the best indicator of the quality of a university, after satisfaction scores.

This will be of particular concern to bronze- and silver-rated universities in the capital, which are among the most reliant on international students.

Seven in 10 full-time students at LSE come from overseas, ranking it in third place globally for universities with the highest proportion of international students in the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

Meanwhile, Soas has 54 per cent foreign students and University College London, which was rated rated silver, has 47 per cent international students.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University College Union, said “the fear is that students, beyond the UK in particular, will use these results as the basis for deciding which UK university to attend, which could damage some institutions”.

It is “worrying” that some international students could be put off studying in London “by a deeply flawed TEF”, she added.

However, other higher education figures were sceptical of the notion that London’s position as one of the world’s most attractive international study destinations will be threatened by the results.

Paul Ashwin, professor of higher education at Lancaster University and co-investigator at the Centre for Global Higher Education at the UCL Institute of Education, said the results would be “just as likely to undermine the credibility of the TEF” as to “impact negatively” on London universities.

He added that he would expect Brexit, visa requirements and fear of personal safety in London to have a greater impact on recruitment.

“When people look at university rankings, they have quite strong ideas about which are good universities and part of their reading of ratings is, ‘are the universities I know are good positioned in the right place?’ If they’re not, particularly for a new rating, that actually undermines their trust in the rating rather than undermining their trust in the institutions,” he said.

In a blog post last week, Jane Glanville, chief executive officer of London Higher, which represents the capital’s institutions, said that if some of London’s world-renowned institutions are rated bronze or silver, “that in itself suggests something is amiss with the exercise”.

Meanwhile, Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that the “really prestigious London institutions will continue to give other reasons for studying there while less prestigious institutions tend to serve students whose decisions may be less influenced by TEF results”.

He said it was “too early” to say whether the TEF results will be used most by prospective international students but “other regions will undoubtedly try to entice people away from London on the back of the results”.

The East Midlands may be one of the regions seeking to capitalise on any potential shortfall in London’s international student recruitment, given that eight of its nine universities that were assessed were awarded gold.

Scotland was also a no-bronze area, boasting three gold and two silver institutions, although several Scottish universities opted out of the exercise.

Tim Bradshaw, acting director of the Russell Group, said that it will be important to “look closely” at the data to see why London is so heavily over-represented in the bronze category and “whether it provides a fair reflection of the high-quality teaching that we know is happening at universities across the capital”.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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